Thursday, January 7, 2016

Tiny Living Big Limitations

A group I belong to on Facebook posted an article titled Teeny House Big Lie: Why so Many Proponents of the Tiny House Movement have Decided to Upsize. The posting was prefaced to help reduce the amount of negative feedback since this particular page is for the Tiny House community. You should take a moment to go read it before continuing to read this post.

Ok, welcome back. So what did you think? I think it is important to note the author, Erin Anderson, wrote this article after spending time in a vacation home this is small enough at 320 square feet to be considered tiny (tiny is measured as under 500 sq. ft.). She, her husband, and their two teenage boys spend 10 weeks each year at their "cottage." Erin describes the cotta
ge as not insulated, having no flushing toilet, and having no running water. In fact, the only redeeming quality Erin finds with the cottage is the lake it sits on. Erin describes their cottage as a "birdhouse with the walls closing in." Clearly she does not enjoy spending time in their cottage.

Fact: Not everyone enjoys living in small spaces.

The article went on to describe a common situation in the Tiny House Community I have brought up multiple times both on this blog and on my Podcast: Some tiny houses are not livable long-term.

As I have also pointed out many times, my biggest complaint about Tiny House television shows and media coverage about Tiny Houses is only showing Tiny Houses built on trailers with large budgets.

Fact: Not all Tiny Houses are built on a trailer and most cannot spend $60,000 or more to build.

I initially began preparing for my tiny life by dreaming of a Tiny House on wheels. Let's face it, Tiny Houses are like tree houses or dollhouses for adults. Cute to look at, fun to dream about, but small. Very small. For folks into the minimalist lifestyle this might be great, but for average folks like me who plan to live in their Tiny House until the end of their days, the minimalist thing can be very difficult to embrace.

Erin is correct that a large number of folks who build or purchase a Tiny House really have no concept of how much their lifestyle will need to be altered. In some cases, Tiny Houses on Wheels have only 90 square feet of living space, including the sleeping loft in that count. Others, when built on a 20 foot trailer can get close to 200 square feet, including the sleeping loft and a storage loft. In my opinion, and what led me away from building my tiny on wheels, isn't the number of square feet, but the narrowness of the finished structure that I would find difficult. Ultimately I chose to buy land because the other part of my dream has always been building a microfarm/homestead. My Tiny House is not portable.

My Tiny House consists of two separate buildings. One is 14 x 36 feet and the other is 12 x 20 feet. This gives me 504 square feet in my main building and 240 square feet for my bedroom. both buildings have porches, which reduce the overall interior square footage. I also have a small barn that contains some storage and all my tools.

My main building, the bigger one, contains the kitchen, dining area, and living room. It is a comfortable space with more than enough room to move without knocking things over and feeling, as Erin describes it, as if the walls are closing in. Plenty of windows let in light and fresh air. My kitchen has apartment/efficiency size appliances and baseboard heat keeps the insulated building toasty warm on even the coldest of days. The other building functions as my bedroom. In it I have two beds and bedroom furniture along with a closet with 11 feet of closet rod. I live very comfortably. Running water is wonderful, however I still choose to use a sawdust bucket until I can afford to tie plumbing into my septic tank which is roughly 300 feet from my home site. I have been living my Tiny House life now for a year and a half and cannot imagine living anywhere else.

My response to Erin's article is this: Not everyone likes living tiny and that's ok, but I wouldn't trade my tiny life for a traditional home again, however not all Tiny Houses are built on wheels and alternatives are often overlooked. My Tiny House is a converted prefab shed building.

My advice to those considering going tiny and considering only a tiny on wheels is to ask themselves some key questions:

  • Do you really want to go tiny or do you like the idea of owning an adult version of a dollhouse or treehouse? Be honest, some just think Tiny Houses are so darn cute, but are they really a viable option for you and your family long-term?
  • If you are opting for one on wheels, where are you going to put it? The biggest problem with Tiny Houses on Wheels is not building the house, but finding a place to park it. It can be hugely stressful if you always have to worry you will get booted from where you park. 
  • Are you considering going tiny because you think you will save money? Tiny Houses can be very expensive to build and difficult to sell (recouping your investment is rare). Financing is almost non-existent.
  • What is your plan with regards to water and a toilet? Can you live with a composting toilet or does the thought gross you out? Will you carry your water? Are you planning to be an electric and water mooch, plugging into someone else's resources (and hopefully reimbursing them) for your needs? 
  • Have you considered what it will cost for lot rent if you choose to build one on wheels?
  • Have you looked into Code where you live? Contrary to many folks understanding, you cannot just park your Tiny House on Wheels in someone's backyard without issue. Do your due diligence, because if you cannot relocate, you may be stuck with a house you cannot live in. 
Living in a Tiny House built on a piece of land means you can expand if you find the tiny life too confining. It gives you options like adding a storage shed. Heck you can add a building for those annoying teens, allowing space for everyone to have alone time. 

Erin is right, tiny living is not for everyone, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are lots of other options when it comes to building a Tiny House.